Can you help this Columbus man get a unique coin back to a World War II vet’s family?

James Temples has something that doesn’t belong to him, and he wants to return it.

It’s made of metal. It’s circular, and it’s slightly larger than the palm of a hand. The back of it is carved with the likeness of a World War II soldier who fought and died for his country — one of a small percentage (about 3,500) to receive the Medal of Honor.

Temples, 78 of Columbus, Georgia, didn’t steal it. He thinks it’s something of value and something the veteran’s descendants might want back.

Eric G. Gibson, a Swedish-born immigrant who grew up in Chicago, is the man on the coin. Gibson served as a company cook with the 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division in the U.S. Army. He participated in the Allied invasion of Sicily, the Anzio Beach landing and subsequent drive up the Italian peninsula, according to a brief biography about him published by the U.S. Army Quartermaster Foundation.

On January 28, 1944, near Isola Bella, Italy, Gibson’s company came under attack. While leading a squad of replacements, Gibson destroyed four enemy positions. He killed five German soldiers and captured two others before being killed by the enemy. A portion of his Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:

“An artillery concentration fell in and around the ditch. The concussion from one shell knocked him flat. As he got to his feet, Gibson was fired on by two soldiers armed with a machine pistol and a rifle from a position only 75 yards (away). Gibson immediately raced toward the foe. Halfway to the position, a machine gun opened fire on him. Bullets came within inches of his body, yet Gibson never paused in his forward movement. He killed one and captured the other soldier.”

Gibson was buried at Nora Cemetery in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. He was awarded the Medal of Honor on Sept. 11, 1944, but the veteran didn’t come into Temples’ life until seven or eight months ago.

The mysterious coin changed hands several times before Temples finally had it in his possession. An older couple moving out of Ashley Station Apartments gave the coin to a man living in the complex. He kept it a few years.

Temples moved into the apartments, and the man eventually gave him the coin near the beginning of this year. The man then took it back. Then, the man gave it back to Temples in Spring 2019, Temples said.

Master Sargent Rebecca Barnes, a non-commissioned officer who oversees operations at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center, identified the item Temples had as a challenge coin after viewing pictures of it. It’s a specially-designed coin to honor Gibson for his achievement. They can come in a variety of sizes. But it’s unclear who made it or why.

“Anybody can get a coin made for any reason,” she said. “It had to have been somebody in his family who originally had them made. The question is who made his because (Gibson) died during the war. These things aren’t cheap.”

Temples wants to get this coin back to the man’s family but he doesn’t use email or other internet-based forms of communication. He’s willing to mail the coin to them because it represents the sacrifices men and women are willing to make for their country, he said.

Temples was in the military. He served in the National Guard from 1959 and 1963, and his uncle was a decorated war hero, he said.

“I just thought maybe he deserves a little recognition,” Temples said about Gibson. “As corny and as far-fetched as it sounds, it’s something that maybe the family would want to have.”

If you are a descendent or have any knowledge of Eric Gibson’s family, please send an email to nwooten@ledger-enquirer.com.

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Nick Wooten is the Southern Trends and Culture reporter for McClatchy’s South region. He is based in Columbus, Georgia at the Ledger-Enquirer but his work also appears in The (Macon) Telegraph and The Sun Herald in Biloxi.Before joining McClatchy, he worked for The (Shreveport La.) Times covering city government and investigations. He is a graduate of Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.